DNA swab of arrestee's cheek is a 'reasonable search,' Supreme Court finds (+video)
The ACLU says the Supreme Court ruling, which allows the DNA samples to be stored in a database for use in solving other crimes, creates a 'gaping new exception to the Fourth Amendment.'
The US Supreme Court ruled Monday that police may routinely force arrestees to provide a DNA sample that can later be used to solve other crimes without having to first obtain a search warrant.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In a 5-to-4 decision, the high court said that as long as authorities have probable cause supporting an initial arrest for a “serious” crime, the government may collect DNA from any arrestee, store it in a database, and use it to help solve other crimes.
Such a routine collection procedure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the court said.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said a brief swab of a suspect’s cheek to collect the DNA sample was only a minor intrusion that would not offend an arrested suspect’s expectations of privacy.
In contrast, he said, the government has a significant interest in using DNA to positively identify the arrestee, including any violent history or propensity to flee during pre-trial custody.
“Upon these considerations the Court concludes that DNA identification of arrestees is a reasonable search that can be considered part of a routine booking procedure,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
The central issue in the case, Maryland v. King (12-207), wasn’t whether police could use DNA to ensure that the Alonzo Jay King arrested by Maryland police was the same Alonzo Jay King named in the arrest warrant.
Rather, the issue was whether police could use DNA obtained from someone arrested for one crime to link that same person to an entirely different crime without any independent showing of probable cause to believe the arrestee was involved in the second crime.
In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia took issue with Justice Kennedy’s focus on the use of DNA as a means of identification.
“The Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous,” he wrote.
Justice Scalia’s reading of the Fourth Amendment includes special attention to the founding generation’s hatred of “general warrants” that had been used by the British to carry out open-ended, suspicionless searches.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees the “right of the people to be secure in their persons ... against unreasonable searches and seizures.” It requires a warrant upon a showing of probable cause.
Monday’s decision is significant because it establishes an important exception to that mandate.
The decision will make it easier for law enforcement officials to collect and store a larger volume of DNA samples – potentially to be checked against DNA recovered at crime scenes.
All 50 states require the collection of DNA samples from convicted felons. In contrast, 29 states and the federal government have laws allowing the collection of DNA samples from those who have merely been arrested for a crime, but not convicted.